Questions swirl about NYPD’s firearms training after shooting death of Noel Polanco

An NYPD officer on duty in Times Square.

The NYPD is once again under a microscope for whether or not they are adequately trained on the use of their guns as unanswered questions persist in the death of Noel Polanco, who was shot by a detective during a traffic stop last week.

The 23-year-old Army National Guardsman suffered a single fatal gunshot on Oct. 4 from NYPD detective Hassan Hamdy, who later said he thought Polanco was reaching for a weapon. There were no guns found in Polanco’s car.

The incident caused more shock after it was revealed that Hamdy is part of the NYPD’s Emergency Services Unit, a highly skilled group of officers who endure elite training.

Polanco’s death comes after a spate of headline-grabbing incidents where NYPD officers have fired fatal shots, sometimes against unarmed people. Ramarley Graham, 18, was shot and killed after officers followed him into his home in February.

According to the NYPD, officers are “re-qualified” in their firearms twice a year, though officials would not disclose what the training entailed.

“They could definitely use more hands-on training and I think most cops would agree,” Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYC police officer and prosecutor, told Metro. “The problem is it’s expensive and the agency is so big.”      

Although the rate of people shot and killed by the NYPD has slowly declined over the last decade, some wonder whether more training for specific scenarios could lead to even lower numbers. Attorney Kenneth Ramseur has represented clients who have been shot by the NYPD and said that at 35,000 officers strong, not every member of the force is cut out to be a cop.

“Because of the American economy, a lot of people are becoming police officers as a default position to make a living,” Ramseur said. “But when somebody is given the power to carry a dangerous instrument, they must have the right temperament.”

While O’Donnell said the NYPD has more to learn on how to diagnose situations, he warned that an overemphasis on firearms training could have a reverse effect.

“There is a danger if you get so into firearms and tactics, it could become a different department and that could be a bad thing,” O’Donnell cautioned. “Do you really want to turn a department into a place where you make shooting a big issue and turn them into Marine snipers?”

Calls for better handling of mentally ill people

The NYPD’s handling of situations involving mentally ill or emotionally disturbed people has long been a point of contention.

In August, officers shot Darrius Kennedy 12 times after he lunged at police with a knife in Times Square. While it’s unclear whether Kennedy was in fact mentally ill, Mayor Michael Bloomberg later said of the incident, “taking a knife and going after other people, particularly police officers, isn’t something that a sane person would do.”

“After all these years, they don’t have an effective policy on how to deal with someone who is mentally ill,” Attorney Kenneth Ramseur said of the NYPD. “If someone is mentally unstable, they are going to be killed.”

Officers respond to thousands of calls involving emotionally disturbed people each year, and advocates like Lisa Ortega of Rights for Imprisoned People with Psychiatric Disabilities insist the NYPD needs more specialized training.

“There is no deescalation process that happens, they go in guns a-blazing,” Ortega told Metro. “They are well aware that the community is upset with the way they handle people who are ill, but still they resist getting training and being held accountable.”

Ortega said the NYPD is not interested in adopting community crisis intervention teams — a tactic popular within police departments in other cities.

Recent fatal shootings by the NYPD

  • Noel Polanco, 23, was shot and killed by NYPD detective Hassan Hamdy after he was pulled over for erratic driving along the Grand Central Parkway on Oct. 4.  Hamdy said he thought Polanco was reaching for a weapon, but no guns were found in his car. There was a power drill on the floor near his seat.
  • Eleven people were shot in August when a man shot and killed a former coworker outside the Empire State Building. Police officers fired 16 shots in the tourist-heavy area, and the shooter was killed while nine bystanders were injured by police bullets.
  • That same month, officers fired 12 shots at Darrius Kennedy, who was wielding a knife as he walked backwards down Seventh Avenue off Times Square. He died after being hit seven times while onlookers took video.
  • An officer shot Ramarley Graham, 18, inside his apartment in the Bronx in February after other officers reportedly thought he had a gun. No weapon was found. The officers were criticized for following Graham into his apartment, where he was shot in his bathroom.
  • An officer shot and killed a man wielding a knife inside a building on West 124th Street in September. Cops said that they shot Mohamed Bah, 28, after trying to stun him with a stun gun two times and firing rubber bullets.
  • In June, a detective shot and killed a woman in Brooklyn after she ran a red light. The woman, 23, was driving erratically, according to the NYPD, and crashed after running two red lights. An officer who approached struggled with the woman, and his gun fired, killing her.

How many people are shot by the NYPD?

According to the NYPD’s annual firearms discharge report, 19 people were shot by police officers in 2011. Nine of them were killed. The number of shootings since 2000 has fluctuated between 16 and 26, while shooting deaths has remained between eight and 14.

In 2002, 24 people were shot by cops, with 13 of those incidents proving fatal.

The highest recorded number of shootings in the report was in 1971, when officers shot 221 people, killing 93 of them.


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